COOS BAY — Voters deadlocked over a capital bond measure for schools Tuesday. By Wednesday morning, results showed a mere 22 voters saying no over those voting yes.
Coos County Clerk Debbie Heller said Wednesday morning that an undetermined number of ballots remain to be counted. In addition, staff begin the work today of reviewing all questioned ballots and sending contact cards to voters who may need to resolve ballot issues.
Not until every single ballot is in and counted could the clerk's office determine whether an automatic recount would be called for. A margin of a half of one percent triggers an automatic recount.
"I just hope it swings our way," said Ellen Webster, chairwoman for the Building Excellent Schools Together (BEST) committee. "That would be an exciting thing for the community. The closeness shows there are a lot of people who care and want to see these improvements happen. We definitely got the momentum going, if not now then for sure in November."
The razor thin margin was an outcome that voter comments at the ballot boxes Tuesday afternoon predicted.
“We need the funding for the schools,” said voter Peter Cooley. “If we have an earthquake, those buildings are just going to fall down and kill a bunch of kids. People don't realize but we're due for an earthquake.”
But Voter Shirly Wheeker voted no on the bond, attributing her decision information she attributed to staff members in the district.
“I happen to know people who are involved in the school system,” she said. “There are lot of other ways to make those buildings better, so let's do those things first. I'm against it.”
For voter Fred Anderson, he felt slighted by the district for asking for so much money.
“I voted no for the school measure because if they planned ahead, more than this, they wouldn't be dumping a big one on us,” he said. “We should have done this sooner, so I voted no.”
In contrast, the largest school bond request in Oregon history was passed Tuesday evening by voters in Portland for $790 million. Likewise, the school bond request in Bend for $268.3 million also passed. Those bonds are to do what the Coos Bay bond had hoped to do — make buildings safer.
The $66.5 million bond request was intended to not only make the buildings safer, but to evacuate the elementary students from Blossom Gulch and place them at the district's Eastside building.
Blossom Gulch currently sits in the inundation zone, providing not only a dangerous place for students and staff members, but in a location that prevents the district from obtaining grants to improve the building. Currently, the foundation is sinking, separating stairs from buildings, slanting hallways and making lumps in the tile floor, and has started to disconnect waste water lines from the city plumbing, a problem the district now will now have to spend thousands of dollars on within the next two years to fix.
Eaerlier in the evening, ballot returns were showing a larger margin of defeat, causing reflection over what to do next.
“Now have to sit down and take a look at what we did in our campaign and where we could have made a difference,” said Superintendent Bryan Trendell.
School board member James Martin promised that if the bond measure failed it would go back out to voters and that the district will not miss a step in the momentum it has gained during this year's campaign.
Should the bond ultimately fail, the board will be forced to focus on how to move forward to get the bond on the November ballot. And the rest of the school leadership will be looking at how to keep playing the shell game with its buildings.
“We've been able to keep our buildings going to where kids and staff are able to be safe, but it will take hard work this summer to keep them going in the fall, but that's what we're going to have to do,” Trendell said. “We will look into alternatives to relieve pressure at Blossom Gulch. That's a big piece of what we're going to need to do, whether it's shifting kids around to different buildings in the district, but doing all of that doesn't solve the issue. Ultimately we're going to go back to work and get this bond back on the ballot.”
“We will do the best with what we have and look to those who helped us, because lots of people from the community stepped up and that shows me that our community does support our schools,” Trendell said.